The week of May 4-8 is National Air Quality Awareness Week and 2020 may be a banner year for improved quality around the globe—even if it wasn’t intended.
During the current coronavirus pandemic, billions of people have been told to stay home and factories have been idled. And, while these restrictions may have sent financial markets into freefall and disrupted global supply chains, the air in some major cities is cleaner—and clearer—than it has been in years or decades.
With personal, commercial and business travel grinding to a halt, NASA found that pollution over New York and other major metropolitan areas in the Northeast recorded levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution that was 30 percent lower in March as compared to 2019. In the United Kingdom, pollution levels dropped by 60 percent during that same period, and in Delhi they dropped by 70 percent.
It is safe to say that most people recognize the cause and effect of pollution to air quality, but a recent Harvard University study claims a link between poor air quality and increased coronavirus deaths. “The evidence we have is pretty clear that people who have been living in places that are more polluted over time, that they are more likely to die from coronavirus,” says Aaron Bernstein, the director of the Center for Climate, Health and Global Environment at Harvard University in a recent interview with the BBC.
Researchers analyzing data from 3,000 U.S. counties covering 98 percent of the population found that a one-microgram increase in pollution particles in the air had a COVID-19 death rate that was 15 percent higher.
The pandemic has shown the world, in no uncertain terms, that much of the pollution that lingers in the air is made by humans in one way or another. The economic downturn and a decrease in travel has shown, albeit painfully, that we can take steps to reduce it. Now that we have that information, what will we do with it?